A male “silverback” mountain gorilla, the leader and protector of his clan, placidly sits among stylized bamboo stalks in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains. This is Agasha, one of the dominant gorilla males in Rwanda today. His name means “special” in Kinyarwanda, the traditional language of Rwanda.
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) inhabits Rwanda’s volcanic mountains. The dominant male of each gorilla family is the “silverback,” so named because of the silvery hair that develops upon maturity. Gorillas are peaceful creatures who spend their days foraging for food, playing, and grooming; they are aggressive only when threatened. In their home in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the number of gorilla families has been increasing. Nevertheless, they remain vulnerable to poachers, especially if they stray outside the park’s boundaries and into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tourists accompanied by experienced rangers can visit them in the park, but must maintain a 25-foot distance to protect them from human diseases to which they are highly susceptible.